Before we begin the review proper I would like to share with you a brief e-mail message I am deeply considering sending to Telltale games. It goes as follows *ahem*:
Dear Telltale Games,
Screw you guys. I hate you. Well, I also love you… But NEVER MIND THAT! You have done two things for which I will be complaining about to you right now! First, you have placed me in an awkward position regarding a review I wrote less than a month ago! Some things I wrote have proved incorrect and now I am feeling both irritated and foolish. I hope you’re pleased with yourself…
Secondly, and more importantly! I believe your game “The Walking Dead” is a example of some form of the cruellest and most horrible psychological warfare in the brief existence of our species. I will see you in some European High Court! Good DAY to you sirs!
P.s. I still love you though.
The Walking Dead is one of those games which has a unique enough style of gameplay that describing it is really rather difficult, however I shall endeavour to do my best. It’s a third person zombie-apocalypse game in which you take on the role of Lee Everett, a ridiculously cool black man, who survives the initial outbreak of the zombies and must meet up with and work together with other survivors throughout five “episodes” which make up the overall “season” of the game. The game is based on the comic book series and TV series of the same name and the major focus of the game is on the relations and interactions between the various survivors as things go from bad to worse.
The gameplay is divided up into various styles, there are point and click puzzles where you have control over Lee and can move around small enclosed areas, there are numerous, surprisingly intense and varied quick-time events and there are a few action and sneaking sequences as well. Interactions with the other survivors include both permanent (and predetermined) dialogue and dialogue where you are given choices of what to say, in a ratio of about 30/70. Unlike in any other game which I have heard of though in the Walking Dead you are also given a timer, sometimes long and sometimes extremely brief depending on the intensity of the situation, in which you get to say something otherwise Lee says nothing at all. I do particularly like the fact that in speech you only get a certain amount of time to answer questions or say things as it does make everything seem more real, more intense and does draw you further into the game, it makes every conversation MATTER (although I do hope that game developers don’t take this to mean that every game should use this system now).
The game prides itself, exemplified by the way it repeats at the start of every episode, on the fact that the decisions you make and the way you play the game and I will admit that due to the short, episodic nature of it and the small and tight environments with a limited number of characters, it can indeed make your choices seem very important. Characters will act differently around you, they will remember what you do and say and what you don’t and each has a distinct personality of their own. Overall the interaction between Lee and everyone else is easily the best part of the game and is so extraordinarily human and believable I think just that deserves it some special mention.
The game also has the standard feelings of desperation and despair that one associates with a zombie apocalypse but while, unlike games such as DayZ or Project Zomboid, food and rest are clearly things your characters think about it’s never anything you personally need to worry about as each episode is extremely linear. For once though the rather obvious railroading of the game isn’t really that much of an issue, at least for me it wasn’t, there was enough freedom of choice in my actions and decisions that I wasn’t really bothered by the lack of options in where you could go.
The graphics style of the game is also absolutely gorgeous, a Borderlands-esque style of relatively realistic movements, shading and actions but with a thick black outline around everything and a cartoony style. It’s a great style which I think they’ve used brilliantly and is still unique enough that it isn’t overused yet. The music and atmosphere of the game is fantastic as well and is easily some of the most atmospheric work produced this year.
The story, of each episode and the whole overall plot, is also absolutely fantastic and is wonderful to experience. There are high points and low points, parts which are funny and parts which are sad. The characters are all believable as are the choices you make and the way the world around you responds to your choices. The emotions the game managed to squeeze from me were unbelievable as well, I was shocked at points (and I mean utterly speechless), I was deeply upset by others and some were just plain heart-warming and funny. The characters each grew on me really quickly and each time one of my decisions affected them badly it was surprisingly difficult to deal with.
Due to the short nature of each episode (I would say they average at in between 2 and 3 hours) there is always something happening and always something interesting occurring. As well as each episode having an interesting plot which keeps driving you and Lee forward towards each conclusion each of the choices and individual actions are diverting and exciting. Varying from defending your group with your shooting skills, choosing between people who you can rescue in a given time or even just choosing who to feed out of ten people when you only have four pieces of food. Not only does every decision count and feel important (even if overall it really isn’t) but the action sequences can feel really truly intense, and I mean “edge of seat, gripping your mouse for dear life” style intense. Even the quick time events, a style of gameplay which I feel can be a major detriment to how good games or certain sequences can be, made me hammer away furiously and desperately at my keyboard. I don’t think my “Q” button will ever forgive me.
As for the puzzles, each one tends to be along a similar vein with different twists and obstacles: “You are stuck here and need to get past this blockade/locked door/horde of zombies… What do?” But each one is different enough to never get boring and also each one is just that exact sweet spot of head-scratching but not ridiculous. I don’t know whether I just was smart or lucky in my playthrough but I never felt the need to cheat once. Sure I got stuck once or twice but after a few minutes of thinking and wandering around aimlessly I would be able to sort it out and get back on track.
There are a few things which I feel weren’t the greatest (the game is, unfortunately as they always are, not really perfect). For one thing, point and click puzzlers are never really my favourite thing in the world. Door is locked, find key, pick up key, use key on door. It’s straightforward but also a little bit boring. I know I literally just said it didn’t get boring and that is true, it’s just that this particular STYLE isn’t my thing. I also feel that sometimes there were some choices, which for all the fact that there isn’t really ever supposed to be a “right or wrong” choice, were a little bit bizarre as there was often a more sensible choice and sometimes the way that people reacted to your choices was a little bit unrealistic and surprising.
As well as this, despite the game’s overall excellence, I think most people (including me) will only ever play through the game once. While there is a possibility of replay value in seeing what happens when you make different decisions I think that knowing the story and ending will put a lot of people off going through it again. I thinking that my conscience would actually forbid me from trying to play through the game as “dickhead, sarcastic Lee” rather than “nice-guy, heart-warming Lee”. I do feel that for what you do get it is still worth the price tag, for most people anyway.
Some of you right now may be thinking “well this is all well and good but what on Earth was that little ‘letter’ at the start about?” Well, only a few short weeks ago I wrote this review of To The Moon in which I said both that A. “it takes a lot … to make me cry” and B. that the game had “broke me as easily as it broke all the others who have played it”. And now I am in the rather embarrassing position of having to repeat BOTH of these things. I will hold on to the first thing I said, even if now it seems far less believable, but as for the second… I can’t believe how wrong I was.
When I watched To the Moon, my “breaking” consisted of a couple of solitary tears escaping from a welling up in my eyes. Wiped away and easily dealt with. It was a surprise and I wasn’t ready for it (but please don’t ever discount how emotional and wonderful that game is). But when I got to the ending of the Walking Dead… Oh man… Describing it probably won’t do it justice. I couldn’t stop myself. And man… I TRIED! I broke down sobbing like the little girl I was watching cry with me. I was a mess…
I knew the game was emotional from a few of the earlier points. In a couple of places I did feel more than a little upset and felt like if I was on the edge of welling up. In a couple of other places I was absolutely and completely stunned by some things and had no idea what to do or think. But the ending of that game was unlike anything I have ever experienced. I can’t remember crying like that… Ever. Probably (or hopefully) not since I was younger than 10.
I came up with a number of different possible explanations which seemed reasonable for why this hit me so hard. One of these which stood out (even though it might be complete rubbish) is that I think I, in a way, saw the ending coming. I think that from about half-way through Episode 3 (after one particularly upsetting part) I began to realise that there wasn’t any way the story could end happily, and so when I was inevitably proved right it was just too much to bear.
This is one of the mysteries of human nature right here if you ask me. The end of this game was one of the most deeply upsetting things I have ever experienced, it was depressing and I hate what happened. But in a way, an odd unexplainable way, I want to experience it again. For the first time in my life I think I can actually understand why some people enjoy sad and depressing films and books so much. I can’t explain it. It isn’t logical in any way, shape or form, but somehow… I think I enjoyed it…
Oh god… Am I a girl now?!?
I want to try and explain further about the game, explain about just how amazing it is. But I feel I have gone on for long enough and it is time to rate this thing. Overall I hate Telltale for weird and unbelievable havoc they wreaked upon my emotions but I love the game for the story, the characters and just the overall amazing experience. I think there’s only one thing I can do…
On a side note! I was tempted to try and record my playthrough of the game, but I just couldn’t wait for all the necessary editing and publishing that would have to occur between each uploaded bit. I might yet do a series of it though… Maybe around Summer when I have forgotten a little more of the specific actions and interactions of the games. We will just have to wait and see…